CHAMPION: Leander ISD focused on building leaders

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The other day, I overheard a Leander ISD principal say to a community member, “I learned how to teach in the first school district I taught in. I learned how to be a leader when I came to Leander ISD.” LISD has processes throughout our system that are designed to grow everyone into the best he or she can be, whether you are student, teacher or staff member. This concept of growing leaders is really what our Continuous Improvement culture is all about.

For example, two years ago, Rutledge Elementary won grants from the Leander ISD Educational Excellence Foundation and, with the help of its PTA, funded a pilot initiative for the Leader in Me last year. This year, Rutledge Elementary partnered with FranklinCovey and became an official Leader in Me Campus. This campus-wide model focuses on encouraging students to reach their full potential and is based on Steven Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” In the Leader in Me, the seven habits and leadership themes are addressed and infused into everything the campus does to help students gain necessary life skills and recognize the leader within themselves and in others. Using these strategies, this renowned program has a reputation for raising academic achievement, reducing discipline issues and encouraging student and parent engagement.

As an official Leader in Me campus, Rutledge Elementary staff has continued to learn and grow. The staff has been trained in the seven habits and several staff members have attended the Leader in Me Symposium and visited other schools on their Leadership Days.

So what are some habits you may notice within students at Rutledge Elementary? Students strive to treat others with respect. Whether it’s their fellow classmates, teachers or even campus visitors, students demonstrate respect by shaking hands and greeting others. They refer to themselves as “student leaders,” and they encourage leadership potential in others. When someone is speaking, they give them their full attention. They get excited about responsibility, synergy, mission statements, planning ahead and listening. Students show self-confidence, creativity and communicate well. As one community member said, “As soon as you walk on the campus, you can tell that there’s something special happening at Rutledge Elementary. You see evidence of it everywhere you look.”

It’s important to recognize that The Leader in Me isn’t just one more new teaching strategy that we are trying in LISD. The process directly correlates with the goals and strategies LISD already has in place and aligns with our district culture. The Leader in Me has seven habits that foster student ownership in their lives — be proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win-win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize; and sharpen the saw. These habits dovetail with our own Student Learning Behaviors, which promote student ownership in their learning — exploring learning targets; assess for learning; plan for intervention and/or challenge; using learning strategies; collaboration and engagement; analyzing data and setting goals; and showing evidence of learning.

On Thursday, May 8, Rutledge Elementary held its first Leadership Day, where the school invited community members and other districts to come see the seven habits in action at the school. Students had a chance to showcase leadership skills by speaking about their personal experiences with the seven habits, serving as greeters, staffing the sign-in table, serving food and drinks and much more. Campus visitors also got to see how leadership looks inside Rutledge Elementary’s classrooms. All told, 164 guests attended Leadership Day from eight school districts, including 77 LISD staff members from 12 district campuses. It was a fantastic way to share how far students have come with the Leader in Me program.

The Leader in Me is a journey that the students and staff at Rutledge Elementary are excited to be on. It all began at Rutledge Elementary with a few teachers who heard about this transformative experience and were excited to bring it back as a pilot initiative. Now it’s truly part of the whole campus culture. It is evidence of how a few passionate people can grow into leaders and have a deeply powerful impact on others.

P.S. I’d also like to thank all of Leander ISD’s 2014 Leadership LISD graduates! To learn about the program and to see photos from graduation, visit www.leanderisd.org.

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